Tag Archives: arts

Review: GONE GIRL #1 and #2 by Noel Franklin

GONE GIRL COMICS #1 by Noel Franklin

GONE GIRL COMICS #1 by Noel Franklin

Noel Franklin explores various Gen X concerns, with a Seattle sensibility, in her ongoing comics series, GONE GIRL. It will grab you right away with its distinctive use of chiaroscuro. Franklin’s artwork comes from a printmaking background and that is what you’ll find here, printmaking turned into comics.

What will charm you is Franklin’s recollections of such things as Seattle during the grunge era. Looking back on it, it was a fleeting time but perhaps no more fleeting than any other scene. Things happen. Time marches on. Fortunately, we have such keepsakes as GONE GIRL.



This is a comic on a slow boil. Take a careful look and every bit of it has been patiently put together. That owes, in no small measure, to the Gen X ethos which I proudly share with Franklin. Yes, we are Gen Xers. Baby Boomers still hold their own. Millennials shine in their own way. And Generation X still informs discussion at-large in spite of ourselves. In our youth, many of us often adopted a spacey belligerence mixed with pre-snark weird humor. In the end, we always demand authenticity.

GONE GIRL COMICS #2 by Noel Franklin

GONE GIRL COMICS #2 by Noel Franklin

Each 24-page issue of GONE GIRL collects an assortment of stories. For the first issue, Franklin features recollections that take us all over Seattle in the ’90s. There is a moving tribute to the OK Hotel which hosted some of the greatest alt-rock acts of the era. She recounts that in 1991 Nirvana first performed “Smells Like Teen Spirit” at the OK Hotel. In 2001, the Nisqually earthquake left the venerable music venue structurally unsound and had to be closed down.



The second issue features stories ranging from childhood recollections of Chicago to a fantasy piece about anachrophobia. They are all held together by a fiercely independent vision which brings me back to the idea of a Gen X spirit running through these pages. It seems to me that we were creative trail-blazers without fully realizing it or making a particularly big show about it. All this was pre-internet. We didn’t just draw something and then post it on Tumblr. No, instead, it was like the recollections Franklin shares here about doing an odd day job to get through art school. In her case, she was working as a welder to pay her way through a degree in Photography. Back then, it seems that the art-making process was more far-ranging and we deliberately took the road less travelled. However you want to look at it, this leads to compelling art and remarkable work like this series.

For more details, visit Noel Franklin right here. Visit her on Patreon right here.


Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Generation X, Noel Franklin, Patreon, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival

Mini-comic Review: ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ by Sarah Romano Diehl

"The Secret Life of Plants," by Sarah Romano Diehl

“The Secret Life of Plants,” by Sarah Romano Diehl

In the 1932 short story, “Green Thoughts,” by John Collier, we are treated to some dazzling horror but we are also invited inside the mind of a giant orchid. This unique plant’s point of view is what we find in this recent mini-comic, “The Secret Life of Plants,” by Sarah Romano Diehl.


Collier’s work most likely inspired the cult classic movie, “Little Shop of Horrors.” Diehl’s work takes a more mellow approach. In fact, her inspiration was a song by Stevie Wonder, “Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants.” You can listen to it right here.


This is a beautifully rendered little book in the true spirit of mini-comics. It’s like a little calling card for a new cartoonist. You present yourself at the party, you do a little dance, and finally you leave and go on about your business. And then maybe you wait. Someone like me might pick it up, set it down, and then return to it.

What’s interesting here is a sense of determination and an adventurous artistic spirit. This comic is alive, like a bee making its way into a flower! There’s a good deal of interesting ambiguous imagery. I really have no idea what the colorful flames represent at the end but I don’t believe you’re supposed to know. From what I see, Diehl is an accomplished artist and this little book is a fun and open-ended work that is very enchanting.

You can find Sarah Romano Diehl right here.


Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Illustration, mini-comics, Minicomics, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival


You are NOT your thoughts.

You are NOT your thoughts.

Do you like to write lists of goals you’ve set for yourself or give yourself little private pep talks? Of course, you do! We have plenty of bad energy out there to navigate through. A lot of us out there have already picked up on the benefits of self-help, particularly meditation. Yumi Sakugawa has a new book, “There is No Right Way to Meditate and Other Lessons,” published by Adams Media. Here, she provides a highly accessible, and quite invigorating, look at a peaceful world full of peaceful people.


It all began with an epiphany that Yumi had when she was 23-years-old and feeling very blue. She came to the realization that she was NOT her thoughts. She certainly wasn’t her negative thoughts. It is a simple enough concept and yet it is also a very powerful concept. This is a book that gently, and soothingly, offers observations on how to avoid negativity and gain a better sense of balance.

Yumi maintains a lighthearted tone throughout with her prose and whimsical artwork. For instance, she suggests that you get lost in the woods so your bad mood doesn’t know where to find you. It’s not too lighthearted. It’s just right. These are mind over mind exercises. So, the humor needs to ring true. The inner world won’t respond to a mere joke.

There’s such a genuine expression of joy and reassurance here that you’ll find it irresistible. No right nor wrong. No irony. Just a goal of self-love. Perchance to dream. Ah, dreams are a serious business. The mind demands convincing. Yumi will do this by presenting the reader with a rock. The rock is heavy. Anxiety is heavy. However, once you start to feel the rock’s ridges, it begins to feel less heavy. Yumi invites you to desire a better life without thinking too hard about it. Enjoy the now. That is exactly where you need to be.

“There is No Right Way to Meditate and Other Lessons” is a 160-page hardcover and is published by Adams Media. You can also find it at Amazon right here.


Filed under Adams Media, Comics, Health, Wellness, Yumi Sakugawa

Interview: Cartoonist Tom Van Deusen and working with Dennis Eichborn

Real Good Stuff #1

Real Good Stuff #1

Tom Van Deusen is a cartoonist based in Seattle who, along with several other cartoonists, started up the quarterly comics newspaper, Intruder. His work includes the comics, “Eat Eat Eat,” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” He was instrumental in bringing back the comics anthology work associated with writer Dennis Eichhorn and “Real Stuff.” Tom’s Poochie Press brought out two issues of “Real Good Stuff.” Subsequently, Last Gasp published, “Extra Good Stuff.” This was an opportunity to revisit previous collaborations as well as new ones between Mr. Eichborn and cartoonists.

Real Good Stuff #2

Real Good Stuff #2

Dennis P. Eichhorn died October 8, 2015. He was one of the autobio genre’s best-known luminaries. Once nominated for three Eisner Awards for his work in Real Stuff comix, Eichhorn also authored the Real Smut comix series, and self-published The Amazing Adventures of Ace International, Real Schmuck, and Northwest Cartoon Cookery in collaboration with Starhead Comix. A former senior editor of Seattle’s now-defunct Rocket Magazine, Eichhorn distingished himself as the creator of one of America’s most notable art tabloids, the Northwest EXTRA!, by editing and publishing 16 issues in the late 1980s.

Tom Van Deusen's art on the cover of Seattle Weekly

Tom Van Deusen’s art on the cover of Seattle Weekly

Tom Van Deusen loves to create art: words, pictures, and words & pictures. He dose it quite well and seemingly effortlessly. That is part of the appeal, for me, as I see him as someone who simply loves what he does.

Tom Van Deusen's "Space Duck"

Tom Van Deusen’s “Space Duck”

The image above is a good example. I was looking through items he’s posted and thought I’d ask him about the duck on the moon. Tom laughed and, almost apologetically but not quite, said that it goes back to his just drawing for the sake of drawing.

Tom has taken the comics bull by the horns and accomplished a lot in these last four years that he’s focused on comics. Although, truth be told, he’s been creating art for longer than that. Most notable for him has been his work with writer Dennis Eichborn. We talk about Eichhorn, the world of comics, and the world of an indie cartoonist. Aspiring cartoonists will often ask cartoonist vets about how to break into comics, if there’s some secret handshake involved, and Tom is a shining example of what’s really involved: a simple love for the work.

Henry Chamberlain: Tell us about your connection with Dennis Eichborn.

Tom Van Deusen: I met Dennis Eichhorn through Pat Moriarity, who is a great cartoonist and worked with Eichhorn on the original run of Real Stuff. I’m a big fan of his work as is my friend and fellow cartoonist, Max Clotfelter, and a whole lot of other cartoonists. Max had been keeping up with a sort of football blog that Dennis was doing. Actually, it was more of a newsletter that he’d email to friends. It was mostly about college football but it also included a fair amount of autobio work. And Max contacted Denny about maybe working together on creating comics. At that point, Eichhorn hadn’t formally published anything in about twenty years.

He had these great new stories and, from that, we asked him he’d be interested in working with a new generation of cartoonists. And Kaz knew him and wanted to work with him again as well. And he agreed. I had these ideas at the time of doing some small scale publishing work. I had self-published for a few years my own comics. So, we decided to do a Kickstarter. We drove over to Bremerton and met with Dennis. I think I only met with him four or five times. We had a very successful Kickstarter, almost doubled our goal.

We got to put out a 64-page double issue and worked with a lot of great cartoonists. Noah Van Sciver wanted to do one. We got cartoonist from the original Real Stuff, like John Hurley and Mary Fleener.

And from there, Dennis had all these other stories he hadn’t published and that led to a second collection that was picked up by Last Gasp. Distribution is really tough. And, for me with a full-time job and trying to create my own comics, getting this book published has been the hardest thing I’ve done so far. It was really lucky to get Last Gasp on board to publish the second volume.

HC: I loved that I got to pick up my copy of that second book at the Seattle ferry terminal, of all places.

TVD: Ha, what was it doing there?

HC: There’s a great story behind that. Dennis Eichhorn’s wife, Jane, let me know that she arranged to have it available at the newsstand there since that was her regular spot to pick up the Sunday New York Times for Dennis on her way back to Bremerton.

TVD: Oh, that’s great!

HC: I wanted to ask your take on underground comix.

TVD: Well, from the ’60s or ’70s, or more recent?

HC: Yes, it is era-based. Take your pick. How would you define it, overall, for people totally unfamiliar with this?

TVD: Anything that’s not mainstream. And mainstream usually means genre work. That’s work that’s never really interested me. Even growing up, I never read superhero comics. I was more into “Ren & Stimpy” and a bunch of other crazy cartoons coming out when I was a kid. When I finally started getting into alternative comics in college, I picked up Crumb and Chris Ware. I think that goes hand in hand. It’s work that isn’t genre…which is sort of a sad description since most things aren’t genre. Most things aren’t “superhero” and “action” outside of comics. But, for some reason, comics are so dominated by things that are more suitable for children. Underground comix are more suited for adults, although they don’t necessarily have to be.

Alternative comics can be anything. And, once I found that work, I was really excited that I’d found my calling. It took a long time. They’re kind of hard to find. Distribution is crumby. Unless you know about it, it’s kind of hard for people to stumble across. It deserves a wider audience. It shouldn’t have to be “underground.” In France, this is major media. It’s not something just for enthusiasts. In Japan, everyone reads comics.

HC: It’s good to hear you use the term “alternative comics,” which I find very useful. It’s “alternative” to market-driven mainstream comics.

TVD: Right.

HC: How would you describe the scene today? I mean, from your vantage point. You’ve got The Intruder.

TVD: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff coming out. It’s amazing. It seems that I meet a new cartoonist every day. With the internet, cartoonists are coming out of the woodwork quicker than ever. And there’s all these festivals. That’s what brought about The Intruder. We’d been reading Smoke Signal, which came out of Brooklyn’s Desert Island Comics. We want to create something for Seattle. There’s a great comics community in Seattle and always has been. I met Max Clotfelter, Marc Palm, Ian Fitzgerald, and other cartoonists. We hung out a lot. We all drew comics. From there, we did a lot of jam comics. We did a lot of silly, usually scatalogical, comics. We started out with a free newspaper and people seemed to like it.

The only problem is that there’s no money in doing any of this. The problem is distribution. There’s only one distributor, Diamond. They are pretty much closed doors for the sort of comics I enjoy. It’s a bottleneck for small publishers. They exist because of Marvel and DC Comics.

HC: Well, we won’t put too fine point on it. They do have a small press section in their catalog.

TVD: They do have that.

HC: You had mentioned a graphic novel that you really enjoyed in another interview you gave. That was last year’s sleeper hit, “Arsene Schrauwen,” by Olivier Schrauwen, published by Fantagraphics Books. I can see you doing something like that down the road.

TVD: For now, I am focusing on short works. “EAT EAT EAT,” is my longest work at 25 pages and that took four years.

HC: And you enjoy doing comedy.

TVD: That’s how I got into comics, from doing these PowerPoint presentations.

HC: There was a group that did a lot of that some years back called, Slide Rule.

TVD: Oh, really, are they local?

HC: Yes, it was a group of cartoonists in Seattle. I was part of that scene. David Lasky was part of that scene. He could tell you about it.

TVD: I gravitate to that. I enjoy writing up skits. There’s a great comedy scene where I’m from, Buffalo, New York. Great friends of mine there: Matt Thompson, Pat Kewley, and Sarah Jane Barry.

HC: Well, I am impressed with all the things you’re doing. You may end up focusing on writing in the future. Who Knows. I wish you well. Thanks so much for your time.

TVD: Thank you, Henry

You can listen to the podcast below:

Be sure to visit Tom Van Deusen right here. And you can find Poochie Press Publications right here.

If you happen to be reading this on the same day it was posted, Halloween, and you’re in Seattle, go see Tom at Short Run.

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Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Dennis Eichhorn, Fantagraphics Books, Interviews, The Intruder, Tom Van Deusen

Short Run 2015: Debut of GEORGE’S RUN #1

First issue of George's Run to debut at Short Run

First issue of George’s Run to debut at Short Run

For all of us in the comics community, whether creators or fans, it is time once again for the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival. There’s a nice write-up about it in the local alt-weekly, The Stranger, that you can check out here. Among a splendid array of comics that you will have a chance to choose from, I humbly add something I am working on. This is the first installment to a full-length work. It’s called, “George’s Run,” and it’s about the life and times of science fiction writer George Clayton Johnson. I am still in the process of weaving the narrative but this is a perfect time to share some of what I’ve put together thus far. If you happen to go to Short Run, you’ll have a chance to buy a copy of this 24-page comic. You can find me at the Short Run tables under the name, Comics Grinder Press.

Short Run Comix & Arts Festival takes place this Halloween: Saturday, October 31, in Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center from 11 am to 6 pm.

For more details, be sure to visit our friends at Short Run right here.


Filed under Alternative Comics, Comic Arts Festivals, Comics, Comix, George Clayton Johnson, Independent Comics, Indie, mini-comics, Minicomics, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Seattle, Self-Published, Short Run


Paul Dano becomes Brian Wilson in "Love & Mercy"

Paul Dano becomes Brian Wilson in “Love & Mercy”

The two cello players had been rapidly playing to the direction of Brian Wilson (played by Paul Dano). He had wanted them to evoke the sound of propellers. Each time, they got closer. But, after three hours, Brian’s brother Dennis (played by Kenny Wormald) had had enough. What was Brian trying to prove anyway? Moments later, we hear that iconic perfectly rendered propeller sound. There it is, for all eternity, an essential part of one of the greatest songs of the ’60s and of all time, “Good Vibrations,” and it was worth it! Not to confuse you, this is not a documentary, but, just for fun, here’s a studio session that is beautifully evoked in this film:

How could Brian Wilson have known it was going to be worth it? He had been getting resistance from all sides by his own family. It wasn’t just his backward-thinking brother, Dennis. It was also coming from his own father. The chasm between father and son had grown so large that Brian was forced to fire his dad (played by Bill Camp) from his role as manager. Murry Wilson wasn’t fazed by it and simply managed another band. It was all just business to him. But rigid adherence to the bottom line is anathema to creativity. What it requires is continuous leaps of faith. This is what Brian Wilson is all about and what this film is all about. Ah, here’s our trailer right below:

Paul Dano, as Brian Wilson, is profoundly good. I can only imagine how inspiring it was for him to be, in a sense, taking direction from Brian Wilson. The script is based on Wilson’s 1996 autobiography, “Wouldn’t it be Nice: My Own Story.” Well, Dano was certainly in good hands with the film’s director, Bill Pohlad (12 Years a Slave and The Tree of Life). As we come to find, Wilson was truly up against it and yet remained open to experimentation. Imagine those two cello players, pretty much out of their element and yet they were open to experimentation. And it would lead them to greatness: zuba-da-da-buda, zuba-da-da-buda, zuba-da-da-buda, zuba-da-da-buda, zuba-da-da-buda…faster and faster…until they got it just right.

But there’s so much more. John Cusack is equally miraculous as Brian Wilson in later years. We see hints of a downward spiral as the young Wilson courts disaster but we can’t help but think the eccentricity is too important. By the time we fast forward to the ’80s, we see Cusack portray only a shell of a man. On one particularly good day, he manages to muster up enough strength to flirt with a Cadillac salesperson, Melinda Ledbetter (played by Elizabeth Banks). It is in her eyes, that Brian Wilson sees a possible way back to a meaningful life.

Love and Mercy-Brian Wilson.jpg

And so begins a romance, a way back, and a way out. No sooner has Brian made contact with the outside world, than Dr. Eugene Landy (played by Paul Giamatti) has swooped down to control the situation. Giamatti does have a tendency to chew up the scenery but, in this case, his overacting seems to be spot on. It would take a larger-than-life character like Landy to try to hold back the likes of Brian Wilson. Cusack, who is usually quite good at striking a balance, gives us a portrayal of a man who genuinely, and quite humbly, feels in touch with great artistic ability.

There’s a wonderful scene during his courtship of Melinda where he plays a little tune for her. She says it’s beautiful. He responds that he wrote it for her. “And what happens to it now?” Melinda asks. Brian responds without even a hint of irony, “Nothing. It was just meant to be for that moment.” It is a scene like that one that just adds to the belief in a man who would have cello players repeat the same passage of music for over three hours.

Visit the official “Love & Mercy” website right here.


Filed under DVD Blu-ray Reviews, Movie Reviews, movies, Music, pop culture

Dennis Eichhorn Celebrated in one last collection of Extra Good Stuff

Cover art: "Dennis Eichborn presents life's work to Lawrence Ferlinghetti" by Pat Moriarity

Cover art: “Dennis Eichborn presents life’s work to Lawrence Ferlinghetti” by Pat Moriarity

I just picked up a copy of “Extra Good Stuff” at a newsstand in the Seattle ferry terminal. Odd place for it. I don’t think it has ever appeared there before or ever will again. But quite an appropriate spot for the work of Dennis Eichhorn, who reveled in the missteps and misfires of the absurdly banal people, places, and things of everyday existence.

Dennis Eichhorn passed away last week and I was at a loss as to what to say. He was the real deal. I guess that maybe part of me was waiting for a sign. It happened this weekend as I found myself at the ferry terminal. I was there to meet family. It’s a long story but I’ve ended up at the terminal quite often. I never find it to be an uplifting experience, quite the opposite. Perhaps it’s not as depressing as a bus terminal. But it’s a far cry from the sense of adventure you can get from a train terminal. So, it easily brings on a sigh when I set foot in it. And then to see that strange arrangement, an underground comic on the shelf alongside such fixtures as Men’s Fitness and Rolling Stone.

Back cover: "Lawrence Ferlinghetti" by Jim Blanchard

Back cover: “Lawrence Ferlinghetti” by Jim Blanchard

Well, I picked it up and I figured I’d share it with you and, along the way, I could say a few words about Dennis Eichhorn. He wrote about the unsavory and the weird. He retold fabulous misadventures and made brilliant/eccentric observations. For cartoonists wishing to align themselves with the bona fide underground, here was someone who could act as their Harvey Pekar. In fact, the Midwest had Harvey Pekar, and the Pacific Northwest had Dennis Eichhorn. For a cartoonist worth his or her salt, the idea is to channel the Eichhorn energy. It is best to have the artwork avoid getting too busy as to become needlessly cluttered. Ideally, however, you also want to have just the right amount of frenetic energy running throughout. Or do whatever you feel does justice to work compared to Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and Charles Bukowski.

This comics anthology I just picked up, “Extra Good Stuff,” a collection of reprints and new work, is a play off of Eichhorn’s long-running adult-oriented autobiographical comic book series “Real Stuff.” Three pieces stood out to me, among a stellarly oddball exploration of sex, drugs, and other intoxicants. These are “It’s Good to be the King,” art by Tom Van Deusen; “Gold Dust Twins,” art by Noah Van Sciver; and “The Geriatric Comic,” art by David Collier. All three of these pieces follow a seemingly disjointed path that leads to a satisfying ending. I won’t say things are ever fully resolved in an Eichhorn story, but we come close. Each one finds our main character, Dennis Eichhorn, methodically taking measure of his surroundings.

From "It's Good to be the King," art by Tom Van Deusen

From “It’s Good to be the King,” art by Tom Van Deusen

We can focus for a moment on “It’s Good to be the King” which follows Eichhorn on one of his runs as an on-call medical courier. In just three pages, Van Deusen brings to life a deadened world. Much depends upon facial expression to pull this off. In the case of Van Deusen, it helps that he seems to closely identify with Eichhorn inasmuch as the character he draws for Eichhorn bears a striking resemblance to the character Van Deusen uses for his own stand-in in his own comics. This particular comic was highlighted recently on Boing Boing to announce this anthology. In fact, Boing Boing presented many of Eichborn’s Real Stuff pieces over the years. You can find Eichhorn’s work at Boing Boing right here. And you will find a thoughtful tribute by Tom Van Deusen at The Comics Journal right here.

It bears mentioning here that, as Tom points out in his tribute, there is a story in Extra Good Stuff, “What Next?,” art by R.L. Crabb, that recounts Eichborn in hospital for a cardioversion in 2010. He remembers being overwhelmed by the television tuned in to Fox News. It was from Fox News that he learned that Harvey Pekar had passed away at age 70. Eichborn would go on to die at age 70. And to add a grace note to this, R.L. Crabb commented on Tom’s tribute to say that Dennis Eichhorn passed away on October 8th, which happens to be the birthday of Harvey Pekar. That gives me pause and makes me wonder if maybe October 8th should be designated as “Comix Day.”

Extra Good Stuff is published by Last Gasp and I highly recommend that you seek it out. For those of you interested in what latter-day underground comix are like, this is a perfect primer. And maybe you’ll happen upon it much like I did, when you least expect it and need it most.


Filed under Alternative Comics, Boing Boing, Comics, Comix, Counterculture, Dennis Eichhorn, Last Gasp, Underground Comics

Review: ‘Game Art: Art from 40 Video Games and Interviews with Their Creators’ by Matt Sainsbury


With holiday shopping fast upon us, Comics Grinder is ready to start making some holiday gift suggestions. Let’s start with this beautiful book, “Game Art,” published by No Starch Press, a collection of interviews with 40 top video game designers including page after page of eye-popping video game art. And, yes, this is art. You’ll find a wide variety of gorgeous work that would be suitable for framing. This is easily the perfect gift for virtually anyone. Here are some samples:

From "Fatal Frame 4"

From “Fatal Frame II” (Koei Tecmo Games)

From "Fairy Fencer F"

From “Fairy Fencer F” (Compile Heart)

From "Never Alone"

From “Never Alone” (E-Line Media)

From "Gamebook Adventures"

From “Gamebook Adventures” (Joshua Wright)

“Game Art” presents awesome game art that will inspire gamers and aspiring designers alike. Featuring major studios like Square Enix, Bioware, and Ubisoft as well as independents like Tale of Tales and E-Line Media, “Game Art” explores and celebrates the creative process that turns a video game into art. For more details, visit our friends at No Starch Press. You can also find “Game Art” over at Amazon right here.


Filed under Art, Art books, Games, Illustration, No Starch Press, Video Game Art, Video Games

Interview: Jonathan Lethem and THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2015

Jonathan Lethem self-portrait in introduction to The Best American Comics 2015

Jonathan Lethem self-portrait in Introduction to The Best American Comics 2015

Jonathan Lethem is the author of nine novels, including “Gun, with Occasional Music,” “Motherless Brooklyn,” “The Fortress of Solitude,” and most recently, “Dissident Gardens.” He is this year’s editor for the annual, “Best American Comics.” Lethem’s 2003 novel, “The Fortress of Solitude,” famously references superhero comics. In 2007-2008, Marvel Comics published a ten-issue comic book collaboration between Lethem and artist Farel Dalrymple. It was a revisiting of one of the most unlikely of superheroes from the 1970s, “Omega the Unknown.” In 2013, Lethem collaborated with artist Raymond Pettibon as part of a collection of the artist’s work.

In my review of Best American Comics 2015, I speak to this year’s focus on comics as art. Series editor Bill Kartalopoulos brought in the idea of including Raymond Pettibon and it’s an exciting move toward further establishing comics as an art form in its own right. It would seem to many of us that such an assertion is no longer necessary. But every bit helps to make known to all readers the endless possibilities for comics. In my interview, we talk about Pettibon and his place in both the art world and the comics world. And we take a closer look at what comics are all about in the first place.

Cover art for Best American Comics 2015 by Raymond Pettibon

Cover art for Best American Comics 2015 by Raymond Pettibon

HENRY CHAMBERLAIN: I was reading over an interview you gave in 2008 and I wanted to quote a little from it. You said: “What I do in book after book after book is smash together — as urgently and as adamantly as I can — things that feel verifiably real everyday: textures, stuff of the prosaic and dreamlike material.” Is that the spirit in which you took on your editorship of this year’s Best American Comics?

JONATHAN LETHEM: That’s a great question. I like that quote. I don’t always love hearing myself read back to me but that one stands up. It sounds like what I feel that I do. Of course, I didn’t think of the editorship as having to reflect my aesthetic as though this were like a novel I was writing. You know, it extends from my position as a member of the audience, as a fan, as a responder, of other people’s work.

I’ve always seen a lot of continuity between the reader and the writer. There’s something in between like a member of the bookstore staff putting together a display, or a deejay setting up a set, or that overused term, “curator.” Helplessly, I’m grabbing at things that interest me and pushing them up against each other to make interesting vibrations between them. So, I guess it is like that quote. It is similar. The book ended up including things that are surreal, or magical, or fantastical, along with stuff of grubby ordinary life.

HC: This is your own personal journey through comics. I’m thinking of what Bill Kartalopoulos, the series editor, had said about this year’s edition being less of a survey than last year’s. I suppose each editor is going to bring different things to the next volume. This is your own take on the current scene in comics.

JL: Bill was tremendous about handing me a lot of rope. Obviously, he’s immersed in a field in a way, on a year to year basis, that I could never dream of being. He was brilliant in getting me up to speed and informing me of context. He was a pair of super-binoculars. He also wanted the book to be mine and not lead the horse to water too often. He said he wasn’t passing along anything he wasn’t interested in but that it was going to be too much and that I would need to carve out a vision from all this stuff. He was a great sounding board. He helped guide me to my decisions. For a while, I was floundering around. It’s overwhelming. The field is so huge and so hyper-kinetic in the kinds of energy and ambition being expressed.

HC: So, going through that mountain of books, impressed upon you the enormity of possibilities for comics.

JL: Yeah, I really did feel that. I guess that my selections reflect a kind of a sense of wanting to force the reader to experience, in some ways, the same exciting calamity of possibilities that I experienced. I wanted to reproduce the sensation of “What the hell is this?” Comics are so many different things right now: so vibrant, so many chances are being taken, so many fantastic experiments are being conducted. I started to think that this wasn’t just one thing. It’s a gigantic art form with brilliant juxtapositions and perplexities encompassed within.

Excerpt from "No Tears, No Sorrow," by Eleanor Davis

Excerpt from “No Tears, No Sorrow,” by Eleanor Davis

HC: Looking at this year’s Best American Comics selections that you made, it runs the gamut from a more straightforward approach, like Eleanor Davis, to a more unconventional approach, like Henrietta Valium. And it’s all comics. I think you did something very significant this year by, in a natural way, bringing forward the understanding that comics is an art form. Now, one of my pet peeves, and you may agree, is when a gallery or museum labels something as only “comics-related” when, in fact, it is a work of comics, pure and simple.

JL: Yeah.

HC: And here you have Raymond Pettibon’s work on the cover of this year’s Best American Comics.

JL: Somehow, I got in there very early and that was a piece of good luck. A little feeler that series editor Bill Kartalopoulos put forward was that he had spotted this recent work of Pettibon’s and he sort of dared me to agree with him that it really was comics, just like you say. I was the right recipient for that little piece of provocation. I was already a big Pettibon fan. I wrote something for him, so we had collaborated on that a few years ago. The results were published in The Believer. And that was a comic. I thought of it explicitly as four panels. I wrote for him a four-panel really bizarre and over-loaded comic to do. Raymond being Raymond, took that into even stranger directions. When Bill asked what I would think of Pettibon’s work in a comics context, I was absolutely on board. As an opening exchange, I think it set the ground for how the rest of the book was going to feel to us, that we’d agreed to this slightly audacious definition of comics. And then it comes first circle with the invitation to Raymond to be the cover artist and his agreeing to do it.

Excerpt from Raymond Pettibon's "The Credits Rolled," 2013.

Excerpt from Raymond Pettibon’s “The Credits Rolled,” 2013.

HC: When I was reading this year’s Best American Comics in a cafe the other day, a barista made that “What the hell is this?” comment. And it was in a very supportive tone as he was very familiar with Pettibon’s work. This would be interesting: What can you tell us about Raymond Pettibon? How does he see himself within a comics context?

JL: I have met him a handful of times. And I would say that he is dodgy in the extreme, with a great disinterest in facing questions like that directly. But his work is eloquent. His work incorporates giant chunks of response to comics as one of the key American vernacular visual languages. Along with film, the covers of pulp paperbacks, and tabloid photography, his work devours comics as a source. You have images of Superman, you have hints of Krazy Kat. There’s that Vavoom character from Little Lulu. I think, to him, it’s a question that is too obvious for him to engage in. And here is where I’d feel a lot of native sympathy myself in terms of my own writing and how it engages with comics as a zone of vitality and American language all its own. Comics just begs to be responded to by other art forms. So, what the Pop artists did, by grabbing onto that comics energy, is akin to other artists, like Philip Guston, or Raymond Pettibon. What I’ve humbly tried to do a couple of times in my writing is that, somehow make literary prose just to the tune to the energy that you find in a comic book or a comic strip panel. I think it’s a natural response. You see that today among artists, an understanding that comics are crucial, alive, and part of the American cultural stratum.

HC: You see all sorts of creative people fascinated by comics narrative. You teach creative writing. Do you suggest comics to your students?

JL: I have done that and I also have dealt with some independent study students or thesis writers working on the subject of graphic novels. I haven’t yet assigned a comic as a text in a seminar class but you’re making me think that I ought to do that. It doesn’t seem out of reach to me. My seminars have included film assignments in the past so it would be completely of a piece with that.

HC: I want to reassure everyone that this is not simply a survey, although it is in some sense. It’s definitely a wonderful guide to what’s been going on in comics in the last year or so.

JL: I hope so.

HC: I love how you keep an irreverent tone. It’s respectful but fun. I mean, your introduction is a comic and it’s hilarious. I love the character you created, even though you say it’s derivative.

JL: Well, most good characters are derivative. The two things aren’t mutually exclusive.

HC: One thing I recall from creative writing class is to avoid being portentous. And I believe that most good comics have a lightness to them. They can be anything but they need to strike a good balance, and avoid being portentous.

JL: I’m with you on that. Ironically, the portentousness that I mostly shied away from was largely found in the mainstream superhero comics–which I couldn’t quite relate to. For the present crop, I wasn’t clicking with it. Often, this is because there is a slightly artificial heaviness to them. It’s sort of a role reversal from grown-up stuff being found among the underground and graphic novels and the funny books being there for kids. But, actually, the mainstream comic book companies are producing a lot of very jacked-up grim stuff. And, as you say, some of the most sophisticated or beguiling suggestive work that you can come across includes a certain levity or a sense of the absurd. Some frivolity is in the mix.

HC: Let’s consider some of the work included here. One that quickly comes to mind is Megan Kelso.

JL: Yeah, Megan Kelso was a great discovery. She’s so sly. It appears to be very straightforward work but the degree of compression, the way she can do so much with such a small number of pages, is very, very literary in fact.

From Julia Gfrörer's "Palm Ash"

From Julia Gfrörer’s “Palm Ash”

HC: Another intriguing selection is Julia Gfrörer.

JL: That’s another intricate and evocative piece. That was a total discovery for me. I hadn’t come across her work anywhere before.

HC: I’m familiar with her work. She’s definitely on the rise.

JL: Well, she should be.

HC: It’s nice that it was printed in the book on green paper.

JL: Yes, it was a pamphlet on green paper. One of the interesting things about work like this is that it has the quality of being an artifact. Some other works in the book were either bigger or smaller than the anthology pages. Or would be silkscreened or some other printing process. It’s only an approximation to the original when we fit it into the anthology format.

HC: What would you say about your readership?

JL: More than usual, I’m on the edge of my seat to meet my readership. I know the sense of being stakeholders the comics audience has. I wonder about how they will respond and probably argue with this book in certain ways. I’m really interested in what will come out of that and what I’ll learn. I think it was crucial to feel that I was being dropped into a universe and trying to do justice to this last year. It was like a flashbulb strobe image of the landscape. My volume was one in a conversation. It was instructive to study the last few years of the volumes and see the different kind of statements that people are making with the editor’s position and the different senses you get of what the competition in the field feels like at any given moment.

HC: I wonder if cartoonists see it as a contest. I tend to think that they’ll appreciate that this volume is, like you say, part of a conversation.

JL: Well, you know, everyone who makes things is waiting for that gold star. It’s a neat job to be able to give out the gold stars once in a while. You also want to let people know that there were hundreds of submissions that were clamoring and knocking on the door to be included. In some cases, the selections were determined upon what went together in making a book out of it all, making it all flow, and making it all interesting in context. There are some pieces that I fell in love with that didn’t make it into the book.

HC: It must be great when you make these connections while putting the book together, like the two pieces with a Wonder Woman theme, one by R. Sikoryak and the other by Diane Obomsawin.

JL: There was going to be a third Wonder Woman piece, by Ron Regé Jr., but lawyers stepped in and squelched it. I was trying to give as much of a glimpse into Wonder Woman as possible especially since there had been a couple of nonfiction books on Wonder Woman in that same year.

HC: And you ran into difficulty with getting a work in by Steve Ditko.

JL: That one went down to the wire. And it led us nowhere. So, somewhere, out there, there’s a compendium worthy of Steve Ditko.

HC: Well, God bless him. Thank you for your time, Jonathan.

JL: Thank you, Henry.

You can listen to the podcast interview by clicking below:

“The Best American Comics 2015” is a 400-page hardcover, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and is available as of October 6, 2015. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Anthologies, Bill Kartalopoulos, Comics, Interviews, Jonathan Lethem, Raymond Pettibon, The Best American Comics

24-Hour Comics Day 2015: HOTEL HOTEL and The Fremont Troll!

My 24-Hour Comics Day Adventure at Hotel Hotel hostel has been accomplished!

One of the flyers promoting my 24-Hour Comics Day drawing marathon at HotelHotel PizzaBar

Here is my 24-hour comic for 24-Hour Comics Day 2015. I hope you enjoy it and get a kick out of what I call “24-Hour Comics Logic.” It kicks in just when you need it. I’ll have more to say in another post later this week about Hotel Hotel, the venue for this year’s 24HCD. For now, thanks so much to the support of Hotel Hotel hostel and our friends at Comics Dungeon.


























Filed under 24 Hour Comics, Comics, Fremont, Hostels, Hotel Hotel, Hotel Hotel Hostel, Hotels, Seattle, The Fremont Troll, Travel